NIU: 1 Year after the tragedy

February 14, 2008 and Forward Together Forward are phrases that will probably always come to our mind when thinking about my alum mater, NIU.

I remember when I first heard the news.

I was in Rockford and had just stopped by my parents house after having met with Sarah's mom who was making our wedding cake. A friend of my mom's called the house, asking where I was and told my mom to turn on the local news. And there it was - footage of campus, less than a mile away from my apartment and talk of a shooting had occurred. At the time, they weren't exactly sure which building it occurred in. I thought for sure it was DuSable, as they were filming near that part of campus and almost everyone has a class there at some point in their NIU career as most of the gen-ed classes are taught in that building.

I immediately got in my car and took off back to my apartment down in DeKalb and grabbed my phone and started calling those I knew who may have been in class to make sure they were alright. I also called Jeff to let him know if he need a ride to work I could come pick him up so he could avoid having to take the bus and change routes on campus. Those I couldn't reach I left messages and texts.

Josh was still asleep when I got back. They hadn't announced the names of the victims yet - I was worried about whether or not any of them had been kids I worked with at the theater. When we went out for Valentine's Day later that night, we stopped by the theater and I asked if we had heard if any of our kids were involved, but there was no news yet.

Although I had just graduated 2 months prior, I still lived and worked in DeKalb. I went to the vigil that night, as a recent alumni. What bothered me most was the "what if" it had it happened the previous semester? Just 2 months before did I regularly cut through Cole Hall to get to one of my classes twice a week. We've all had classes there - I had my only math class and my intro to journalism class in that room. I went to a church service one Sunday in that room. I had journalism design classes in the lab underneath that room.

My parents said they were playing interviews of students on Fox News that night - I caught part of Desiree's. We were never really that close, however we worked at the Northern Star together for a few semesters. I was one of the top page designers on staff at the time, and she started out writing (I want to say for Weekender, which I did a lot of the design work for) and was eventually one of the section editors who stuck around a little bit in the evenings. I sometimes worked with her to get content to put on her sections pages. I know she's talked about it a lot since and shared her story, but I still can't even begin to imagine the ordeal she went though, being caught inside the room there. My heart really goes out to her and all the others that had to go through that. I still get a little choked up just thinking about it, and reading what others have written about it - I'm getting more emotional in my old age!

I really feel that I can say I'm a little closer to people I knew from NIU than I was about a year ago, as this tragedy really brought us all together. I've reconnected with some and gotten to know casual acquaintances better. True, it's a little harder to keep in touch with some since I moved back to Rockford, but that's what social networking sites are for, right?